18 February 2023
OVD-Info is a Moscow-based NGO that monitors politically-motivated arrests and prosecutions in Russia. Each week OVD-Info publishes a bulletin with the latest news, which is translated here. To receive the mailing in Russian, visit here.
Hello! A US animal rights activist has been banned from entering Russia for 40 years, a defendant in a ‘fake news’ case has been sentenced to six years in prison, and two Jehovahs’ Witnesses have been sentenced to jail.
A US citizen who led a calf around Red Square has been banned from entering Russia for 40 years. Animal rights activist Alicia Day said she will fly out of the country. On 31 January she was arrested on Red Square with the calf, and the next day she was jailed for 13 days for disobedience to police officers and fined 20,000 roubles for taking part in an action that hindered the movement of pedestrians. According to Day, the action was not political. ‘I bought the calf so it wouldn’t be eaten. I decided to take it to a beautiful place like Red Square and show it the country,’ she explained.
- Why do I need to know this? Foreigners can be banned from entering Russia even for administrative offences. In 2021, the presence in Russia of Belarusian citizen comedian Idrak Mirzalizade was declared undesirable because of a joke about Russians, after which he was jailed for ten days under the article on incitement of hatred. Later, the term during which the actor is not allowed to stay in the country was reduced to 14 years. The prosecution of Day violated the right to freedom of assembly, while the prosecution of Mirzalizade violated the right to freedom of speech. However, it is unlikely that either of them will be able to challenge these decisions, nor will they be able to return to the country in the coming years.
A RusNews journalist has been sentenced to six years in jail because of a post. Maria Ponomarenko was found guilty of spreading ‘fake news’ about the war, motivated by hatred. The reason for the prosecution was a publication in an anonymous Telegram channel, which referred to Mariupol Drama Theatre which was destroyed in an air strike. While in pre-trial detention, the young woman’s condition deteriorated significantly: she was diagnosed with a hysterical personality disorder and she needed medical psychotherapy.
- Why is this important? At least 138 people across the country are being prosecuted for ‘fake news’ about the Russian Army. Aleksei Gorinov, a municipal deputy, was the first to receive a jail sentence, having been sentenced to seven years in prison last June. Dozens more Russians are likely to be imprisoned, with sentences of up to 15 years. They could spend years in prison because of posts, comments and even conversations in which they talked about what is happening in Ukraine. This is how the authorities seek to punish those who say uncomfortable things.
Some Jehovah’s Witnesses from Tatarstan and in the Republic of Altai have been sentenced to terms in prison. Konstantin Sannikov from Kazan was sentenced to six-and-a-half years in a minimum-security penal colony. The man had been placed in pre-trial detention at the end of August 2020. While in custody, chronic diseases of the cardiovascular system and abdominal organs worsened. The Jehovah’s Witness was also denied visits from his wife for over a year. A 45-year-old Jehovah’s Witness, probably Aleksandr Kalistratov from Gorno-Altaisk, was imprisoned for the same period in the Republic of Altai.
- Why do I need to know this? The mass criminal prosecution of members of the denomination began in 2017, when the Supreme Court declared the Administrative Centre of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia an extremist organisation, liquidated it and banned its activities in Russia. Cases are usually brought against those who simply practise their religion: for example, organising worship or reading the Bible with friends. Many of the believers behind bars are elderly people whose health deteriorates considerably in detention. According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia portal, as of 15 February, a total of 368 members of the denomination have been imprisoned.
The UN has called for the immediate release of Aleksei Gorinov, who was convicted in a ‘fake news’ case. The organisation demanded that the Russian authorities conduct an independent investigation and take action against those responsible for the unlawful prosecution and imprisonment of the former municipal deputy. The UN also acknowledged that the politician was being persecuted for exercising his right to freedom of speech and the right to participate in political life. The experts of the UN working group expressed their opinion in response to a complaint which had been prepared by OVD-Info staff together with foreign lawyers. In June 2022, Gorinov had been sentenced to seven years in prison for speaking out about the war at a meeting of the municipal council of deputies of which he is a member. His sentence was later reduced by one month.
- Why is this important? The UN decision provides an opportunity to draw attention to the case of Aleksei Gorinov and to demand a review of the sentence. Even if this does not happen, the UN position could also be used in the trials of other anti-war defendants who are being prosecuted because of their statements. Perhaps in this way, it will be possible to reduce the number of harsh punishments or to achieve the cessation of prosecution of some Russians altogether.
‘They haven’t been caught, but they are being convicted.’ Defendants in cases concerning ‘fake news’ about the Russian army are being tried in absentia: verdicts have already been handed down to Instagram blogger Veronika Belotserkovskaya, former police officer Oleg Kashintsev, and former TV presenter Aleksandr Nevzorov. We tell you how trials are held when the dock is empty and what awaits those convicted. Read the story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.
‘People don’t think about the meaning of the protest, but immediately start hurling insults.’ On 5 February, Dmitry Karasev, an activist from Ivanov, climbed a pole on a bridge and chained himself to it. He was wearing a with pictures of people who had been abused because of their appearance and a placard reading ‘They were ruined for the way they looked’. Karasev was detained and the court fined him 10,000 roubles under the article on rallies. Read his story on our website, Yandex.Zen and Medium.
Translated by Anna Bowles